Dick Cook, tireless community advocate and organizer, quietly retired last month. Following 18 years at the helm of the Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS) based at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Cook and his SWCOS colleagues have served the Baltimore community well for nearly 20 years. According to former dean and SWCOS founder, Jessie Harris, SWCOS originated as a way to keep Masters of Social Work students in Baltimore and expose them to issues of urban poverty and opportunity in the hopes that they might choose careers serving those populations. To date nearly 1,000 field placements have been developed and supported by SWCOS.”
Dick Cook took over as SWCOS Director in 1995 and grew the organization to where it is today – maintaining a strong, deeply rooted presence in the Baltimore Community, specifically among the city’s impoverished populations and troubled school system through their Peace Corps Fellows, Community Schools, Healthcare Organizing and Neighborhood Fellows initiatives. Cook’s exuberance is complimented by a staff of dedicated individuals, many of whom have earned their Masters of Social Work degrees through the program. While Cook’s successor, Wendy Shaia, has big shoes to fill, her work as Senior Strategic Planner at the American Red Cross and NSA has prepared her well to lead SWCOS.
Here is a bit about Cook’s accomplishments while serving as Director of SWCOS: “Mr. Cook helped develop the Charles Village Community Benefits District to reduce crime and improve sanitation; served on the Community Advisory Board at Greater Baltimore Medical Center to help low-income residents find health care; assisted the Baltimore American Indian Center, Maryland Hispanic Affairs Commission, the Open Society Institute, and much more. He is the true meaning and example of a great Civic Warrior.” Read more from Cook’s farewell blog post on the SWCOS website.
I have only known Dick Cook for a few months but feel blessed to have spent a morning with him chatting about the importance of being a civic warrior at the University of Maryland Baltimore’s downtown campus. While he is moving on from a long career as a university-based advocate for social justice and grassroots community change, don’t expect Cook to ride off into the sunset. After an extended camping trip across the country with stops to visit friends and family, he will return to Baltimore to begin his next battle for the common good.